By Jill Patterson
I want to commend the News-Leader for highlighting the proposed bill regarding changes to the sex offender registry (“Sex offender registry has proved to be helpful: Changes could raise dangers,” Feb 6).
The issue of how we respond to sex offenders in our community is important to all of us.
As someone who worked for many years prosecuting sex offenders, I wanted to offer my perspective.
First, a tiered structure is not a novel approach. In fact, this model has been used in several jurisdictions from the origin of the registration laws.
The primary complaint about such a model historically has been that it was an “unfunded mandate” and required the prosecutor’s offices to return to court upon the release of an offender, or release from probation, to prove in court what level of registration was appropriate.
The concern I have with the proposed tiered system in Missouri is that it appears to rely on what the original offense was. This factor is a very small part of the equation.
All sex offenders in Missouri are required by statute to participate in a treatment program tailored specifically to sex offenders. I have long contended that treatment and accountability are the two factors that produce the most safety for a community and the least amount of re-offending. Any tiered system should focus primarily on successful participation in such treatment and the input of the treatment provider — a trained professional with expertise in dealing with the multifaceted issues of sex offenders.
This measure is far more telling than the title of the underlying offense. In fact, I have prosecuted some offenders who were only convicted of a misdemeanor who are far more dangerous than some felony sex offenders.
Often it comes down to what proof is available in terms of the final outcome, rather than what level of danger an offender poses. Further, there are many offenders who are never held accountable for their sex offenses.